Why yearbook advisers need to make time for building relationships

Linda Ballew

by Linda Ballew
Dow Jones Newspaper Fund
2005 Teacher of the Year

In Three Cups of Tea, journalist David Oliver Relin relates a story about a mountain climber who built schools for girls in Afghanistan. It is an admirable story about an ordinary person who, with character and determination, really changed the world. Mortenson’s autobiography shared a life lesson by relating a local custom. You see, the first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for family, people are willing to do anything, but here’s the crux. You must take the time to share a cup of tea. You must slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects.

Clearly educational philosophy should align to this process.

“In the successful classroom, advisers need to discover that we have more to learn from the people we work with than we could ever hope to teach them.”

We just need to slow down, build relationships and enjoy the journey of finding our place as we provide rigor and relevance to the project at hand. When our collaborative journey ends, it culminates with our project showing and telling the history and story of who we are — together.

As an adviser, I am a resource consultant and facilitator. I do not write, photograph, design or edit copy for the publication. My role entails teaching the fundamental, as well as the advanced skills necessary for my charges to learn to be the best journalists, designers and photographers they can be. I make suggestions, consider legalities and ethics and troubleshoot mechanical and technical problems. Together, editors, staff and I have defined our job descriptions. I guide all of the details, and serve as the liaison among staff, professional press, printers, faculty and administration. Finally, I supervise.

As Benjamin Allnut, a pioneer in scholastic journalism, said, “Advisers organize student initiative.” Student-driven publications allow staff members to experience and learn invaluable critical thinking skills such as proactive decision-making, problem-solving and high-level conceptual analysis and judgment. They develop people skills when they learn to work on a team and as a leader of a team. They evolve personally when they realize the significance of a strong work ethic and the importance of time-management, balance, a positive environment, freedom with responsibility, commitment and accountability. Ultimately, they learn communication and business skills, as well as methods for coping with stress and change, tools they will need in the real world.

Genna Boland wanted to discover a place to express herself. She had a lot to say, but she struggled with a visual spatial learning disability that made the activities she loved the most, reading and writing, difficult for her to accomplish.

She believed journalism might provide practice for her to find her voice.

Courageously, she spent her first year in journalism writing articles, sharing all that she wanted to say. Despite the difficulty of spelling the words correctly, her strong work ethic never wavered. She continued to learn, becoming an indispensable member of the staff. She persisted.

She spent her second year, writing articles and designing pages. Still, she had not found her outlet. She suffered through frustration, trying tirelessly to find the best method for her voice to be heard. Even with the inability to process visual information, her efforts in both newspaper and yearbook earned respect from her peers.

And then, in her third year, Genna picked up a camera and started composing photographs. Magic happened. With camera in hand, she began to deliver her message with arms wide open. There was no inhibition. There was no overwhelming situation. She was unstoppable. Her message appeared as stories expressed in amazing photographic images. Personality, introspection, insight, creativity, athleticism, art and nature were captured. These photographic images, telling all of us lucky enough to view her work, not only about the subjects in her photos, but about the exceptional talent and voice that overcame, and in fact, embraced the challenge.

One of my most critical jobs is to role model how a team can develop trust. My students know the value of my sometimes direct but honest critiques of their efforts. Recognition from both judges and audience is welcome. Awards are nice. Feedback is more important. We know we cannot please all of the people all of the time because we do not always choose their favorite styles or colors. We do not always tell the stories in the way that makes everyone happy. However, we respect our audience’s opinions finding merit in taking the time to organize focus groups and to research trends and facts.

My students know how proud I am of them as they travel through the process of innovating, honing and compiling the elements of their publication. Together, we learn to celebrate, not just the final product and personal accomplishments, but also, the satisfaction derived from working as a familial team in an accountable and disciplined environment that thrives on policies and choices built on striving for a standard of excellence.

Success is about positive attitude. In Toy Story 3 Ham the Piggy Bank says, “It’s the perfect time to be hysterical.” Sometimes the pressure of deadlines, technical glitches, unforeseen issues, finances, the struggle to find the best words, photos and designs, and so many possible crises make advisers and their staffs feel overwhelmed. Humor, patience and time to listen to one another focus us again. And, it’s true. I buy a variety of not-so-healthy treats because motivation thrives not only on the sweetness of pats on the back, hugs and verbal praise, but also, on pizza, donuts and chocolate. This is our cup of tea. It never fails.

Excerpt from The Definitive Book on Yearbooks:


The Definitive Book on Yearbooks captures the hundreds of years of experience of well-known personalities in yearbook journalism. This highly respected group brings to a discussion the creative process and the nuts-and-bolts production of yearbooks in a beautifully bound collection. The essays tell stores, capturing the story-telling appeal of yearbooks.

Read the book everyone’s talking about! To find out more about The Definitive Book on Yearbooks, contact your Balfour representative.